Marsh column: Fighting freshman fifteen

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 31, 2009

Q. I am a freshman in college. How can I prevent the freshman 15?
A. This is a great question! It takes me back to when I was in college. I had just turned 16 (in the Netherlands we start school earlier but I was the youngest on campus) so I was going through puberty when I went to college!
And yes, I gained a good amount of weight. I don’t remember if it was 15 pounds or more ó I would guess more.
Typically, the reason why freshmen gain a substantial amount of weight is because they are responsible for their own meals (and yes, other things too and I will get to that in a minute).
As a student, you are on a budget and the unhealthy fatty foods are mostly cheaper and keep you full longer, agree? Your body is not used to eating fast food every day and the increase of calories will pack it on.
Late-night snacking is another cause of adding lots of calories to your diet, whether it is snacking while you are studying for an exam or snacking after a night going out.
Which brings me to the next reason for weight gain ó don’t be shocked ó the consumption of alcohol.
By law, you can’t drink alcohol until you’re 21, but we all know that many (not all) students will drink alcohol in college before the age of 21. In the Netherlands, I believe the official drinking age is 16 years old and yes, that was a big part of my weight gain at that time.
So right there are three big issues that can really make a difference in your weight.
So how can we prevent the freshman 15 ó or more?
Watch what you eat. You can still eat cheap by having pastas and rice and even some ramen noodles once in a while. Try to stay away from the fast-food dollar menus, chips, and other high-calorie junk food.
Have healthy snacks available when you study late at night ó carrots, celery, pickles, rice cakes, etc.
Watch your alcohol consumption. Count the calories and you will be amazed how many calories you have consumed in one night! And it does not stop with just the alcohol, most of the time you want to EAT after a night of drinking. And if you are under age you can get in trouble with the law. (Maybe fear can keep you lean!)
Exercise! Just because you are in college does not mean you can stop exercising. Unless you play college sports and exercise every day with that, you should be exercising most days of the week. And you know what? Colleges offer great exercise classes at low or no additional cost to you. All you have to do is go and DO IT! It will make you feel better and deal with stress a lot better.
Last but not least, weigh once a week. This way you actually can see your weight gain and put a stop to it when you see those numbers go up.
Remember, it is very easy to gain weight and very hard to lose it. Why not adjust your lifestyle so that you will NOT be part of the freshman 15 weight gain club.
Good luck!
Ester Marsh is associate executive director of the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA. Contact her with health and fitness questions at 704-636-0111 or